Mr. X Review
Mr. X is all kinds of awful it's really hard to know exactly where to start. The plot is a safe bet though, and in keeping with the entertainment on offer it's fairly simple. Set for the most part in Hong Kong there are two rival triad gangs waging all out war on one another, along with some talk of one of them (I'll call them the baddies) joining forces with Japanese Yakuza and the other (the goodies) looking to put a stop to this and in turn rescue a kidnapped family member. Headed up by two brothers they call in help from an American hitman, an unnamed killed played here by Joe Lewis, who intermittently appears to off a few bad guys and spout drivel at this Chinese co-stars.
Produced by the aptly named Patchwork Productions, Mr. X is actually a poorly conceived hack job taking the majority of its footage from two Hong Kong contemporary gangster thrillers* starring a few recognisable faces such as Alex Man, David Lam Wai and Michael Chan Wai-Man, with horrendously bad scenes featuring Joe Lewis shot years later and poorly edited into the action to produce a film that truly belongs in the "so bad it's good" category. Bringing to mind the Simpson's episode "Radioactive Man" where some tech heads claim they can seamlessly blend existing footage to create new scenes, only to see a test reel that brings about the response "We're ruined" from the director, the integration here goes beyond simply looking terribly out of place and, well, lacking any actual interaction. Instead what you're seeing is a bunch of guys using their own living rooms as sets, their regular attire for wardrobe and a hopelessly static camera (probably HI8 or some other camcorder type of footage) to capture the mundane dialogue which is delivered with all the charisma of a dead skunk.
It is so terrible however as to be fairly amusing, with telephone conversations between a handler, hitman and client ending with "Bye" and "Take Care", the kind of formal dialogue that sounds as though it's being made up on the spot. Later there are some real gems to be found though, such as Mr.X's handler suggesting who should be killed first..."He reminds me of a slanty-eyed-toad. Just put one up his ying-yang." I think I laughed harder at that one line than I did through some recent comedies. This level of amateurish dialogue and general production continues throughout the new scenes featuring Lewis, right up to the two fights he actually conducts with another person in the same frame as him. Two American lugs fill the boots of his would be attackers, both of whom are dispatched pretty quickly and allow for the ageing karate champion to demonstrate a couple of moves that fit more into self-defence tactics than any real screen attacking techniques.
Carrying on like I am about the scenes featuring Lewis might give the wrong impression that he features heavily in the film, when in fact the Hong Kong feature they've shamelessly edited him into offers the real grunt of the action. As previously mentioned it sees two triad families at war and is wall to wall guns and violence from start to finish, with the gun action heavily influenced by John Woo ("The Killer" seems to be a prime source of inspiration, right through to the wardrobe of the heroes) yet failing to capture any of the finesse he brings to the screen. Instead the action direction here takes a "throw as many bodies in the way of bullets as you can" approach, with the stuntmen falling before their squibs have even fired and the body count well into triple figures by the credit roll. It's all so over the top however that there is some fun to be had here, with the final advance by the heroes featuring an increasingly destructive set of weapons employed before they finally begin wielding bazookas and a machine gun that could have been yanked from a fighter jet. Then if you go beyond the gun violence (which I forgot to mention combines gratuitous violence with the kind of gratuitous close-ups of gun action found in the girls with guns videos) there is also a few nicely staged martial arts set-pieces with Michael Chan Wai-Man, who also yields a samurai sword in a suitably brutal showdown during the finale.
*After much research "Gangland Odyssey" (1990) - which is also directed by Michael Chan Wai-Man - and "King of Gambler" (1990) are the two films I believe were used as the primary source of footage in Mr. X.
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Presented in 4:3 I suspect this is actually the original aspect ratio for Mr. X, a straight-to-video feature with all the production value of a corporation fire and safety video. The Hong Kong features they've used for the basis of the film are however quite obviously cropped from their original widescreen aspect ratios, but that's not grounds for a reduction in the scoring as it's Mr. X we're interested in here. Unfortunately the transfer is pretty dire, with the footage from the Hong Kong features in particularly bad shape, incredibly soft and generally looking like an overused VHS tape. The scenes with Lewis are much better, looking relatively clean if not exactly bustling with clarity and detail; they suffice and gain this a solitary point in the video department.
In terms of audio we get the original mono soundtrack, which combines English, Cantonese and Japanese languages with forced English subtitles for the latter two. Background hiss and distortion in the high-ends are frequent but for the most part the sound suffices.
A UK Promotional Trailer, photo gallery, web links and a look at other 55th Chamber titles make up the extra features on the disc.
They probably called it Mr. X because they couldn't be arsed to come up with a better title, an attitude which runs through the newly shot scenes which lack any production value whatsoever. I've seen much worse however and for comedy value alone I'd choose this over any number of Van Damme or Seagal vehicles, though if you really must put yourself through films of this ilk then I suggest a strong drink to help ease you into them.